banner photo:

"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope


Banner photo
Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Monday, December 31, 2012

Farewell to Dalton McGuinty

I've often wondered how people who go absolutely apoplectic at the mere mention of Prime Minister Harper's name (Justin Trudeau and Warren Kinsella come to mind) can maintain their calm equanimity when faced with the antics of Ontario's soon-to-be-ex-Premier Dalton McGuinty. Surely it has nothing to do with party affiliation - why that would be narrow-minded and biased, wouldn't it? Rex Murphy nailed this phenomenon in Saturday's National Post, where he awarded Mr. McGuinty the title of "worst politician of the year":
The year past, much like the years before it, has been marked by frequent lamentations that democracy is at peril in Canada, that the federal government in particular is increasingly remote, unresponsive, and in certain areas even reaching towards the imperious.
Those whose calling it is to savage the Harper government agree almost to a phrase that its failings and the Prime Minister’s are “contempt” for democracy, a highhanded “American-style” of governance, and a brutal unresponsiveness to critics or citizens.
There is more than a little truth to elements of these charges. But as is the case with matters Harper, those who oppose him do so with an intensity in excess of its object. Much Harper criticism has long since gone Pavlonian — say his name and the barking begins.
...
If we are to look for an unresponsive government in Canada, one which really has taken off the reins of democratic accountability, that has — at times — mocked or ignored the citizens’ most basic rights, one which has erased the line between what is good for the party and what is good for the people, let me nominate the soon to be history Liberal administration of the now departing Dalton McGuinty.

It’s quite wonderful Mr. McGuinty arranged the public affairs of Ontario so purely in harmony with the affairs of the Ontario Liberal Party. After his last election, denied a majority, unable to win in a byelection, he promptly shut down the legislature.
After all, if the Liberal party is not in a majority, what is the point of a legislature anyway? Surely it’s not a place to highlight Conservatives or the NDP? Shutting it down spares Emperor McGuinty Question Period, scrums and inquiries. It’s like an extended holiday from the myriad hassles of democracy itself.
Of course it also works for the convenience of the Liberal party in another way. Since Mr. McGuinty announced his plan to retire at the end of January, the party has been free to loose all its second-tier talents in a race to replace him. They are relieved of cabinet responsibility and are free to wander the landscape fantasizing about their leadership. Who’s running the government while a political party takes care of its business? As wonderful and engaging as leadership races are, they should not supersede the legislative responsibilities of democratic government.
Further, Mr. McGuinty avoids answering some huge questions, principal of which is what on Earth or in Hades was going on when he cancelled construction of a gas-fired power plant during — let us emphasize that — during the last election campaign. That little piece of Liberal election politics will cost Ontarians somewhere between $200-million and a billion dollars. Any other government who played politics with such numbers would be in some hall of infamy.
Finally, as Mr. McGuinty organizes the public affairs of Ontario entirely for his and his party’s convenience, have a look at what news keeps rolling in. GM decides to stop building the Camaro in Ontario, and thus the billions thrown to GM to keep its operations in Canada are now a bust. His fatuous and wild decision to “green” Ontario’s energy production throws up new failures and costs every day. In the early days of this hollow fascination he forbade municipal governments from assessing or interfering with his projects. He virtually shut down one whole order of government. Democracy? Green was imposed; local objections be damned. Mr. McGuinty might also, in the light of the current aboriginal protests, offer his electors some accounting of how he handled, or non-handed, the wretched Caledonia affair. There was democracy in action.
Mr. McGuinty is about to leave Ontario with its finances in jeopardy, a pale and nervous version of exhausted California to the south, with the unions that once fawned over him now in open, angry revolt. I pity the victim who wins the job of Ontario’s next Liberal leader, and with it, the premier’s office. This undemocratic administration will cast its cold and unforgiving shadow over whoever takes the reins, and the Liberals will pay for this at the ballot box.
I'd like to think that the Liberals will be punished at the ballot box come the next election, but I'm not hopeful. McGuinty was elected three times despite a wretched record while in office, and the provincial Tories under Tim Hudak are hapless and inept. The same voters who wail and gnash their teeth every morning that Stephen Harper wakes up, puts on his jackboots and goose-steps to the Langevin Block fawn over Dalton McGuinty and his cabinet acolytes like they're the thin red line protecting us from annihilation. Ontario politics is a fetid swamp of hypocrisy, and there isn't much chance of draining it any time soon.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection - What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? sung by the great Ella Fitzgerald.






Thursday, December 27, 2012

Postal workers of the world unite!

Denis Lemelin, president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), recently released a letter to Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence who is on a hunger strike on Ottawa's Victoria Island. The letter goes way beyond support for Chief Spence, and expresses barely concealed contempt for Canada's "morally bankrupt government and system": 
Chief Theresa Spence,

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers honour Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat for her courageous stand in defense of the land against the moral bankruptcy of the Canadian state.
We recognize the racist and genocidal history of Canada and that the attempts to assimilate and silence Indigenous voices have been rife with failure and abuse. The ongoing theft of Indigenous lands, the refusal to honour agreements made in the name of the British Crown reveal a sadly dishonest and indefensible relationship. It seems nothing is sacred in the eyes of the greedy.
Now this latest government after their so-called "apology" without substance are making another kind of attempt to forever extinguish rights and title to your land while continuing the poverty, illness, homelessness, disappearances of Indigenous women, and imprisonment that it has wrought. Everyone who identifies as "Canadian" should be deeply ashamed of this sad performance but shame is not enough. Our organization will not lend our name to that destruction or defend a morally bankrupt government and system. We will not be a party to traumatizing whole populations and can no longer deny or remain silent over the fact the homes of the settlers were built on the ruins of others.
No re-writing of history will change what we all know. These territories were unjustly seized and exploited while accompanied by ongoing attempts to erase history. We hope that we will learn better to develop customs and practices to guide our relationship. When Indigenous peoples stand to defend the land and Mother Earth it is our duty to stand with them in order to de-colonize ourselves and recognize this complicity of silence that has occurred for generations is not acceptable.
We honour you Chief Spence, driven to this measure, and with humility and gratitude thank you for your courageous defense of the knowledge you have kept alive, for trying to protect places that future generations will enjoy and though it is maybe not your intent, to know that your actions are now speaking for all of us, for everyone who wants and deserves a sustainable way of life in harmony and respect with the earth. We add our name to those who will not stand for taking away sovereignty and the inherent right to land and resources from First Nations peoples in this abusive and indefensible relationship.
In solidarity and gratitude,


Denis Lemelin
National President
 Many Canadians might agree with Brother Lemelin that the relationship between the Canadian state and its aboriginal inhabitants is not working and needs a thorough re-examination, but I think most of us would hesitate to link the issue to a claim that our government is "morally bankrupt", that Canada needs to "de-colonize" itself, or that our "system" needs to be replaced by one more "sustainable" and "in harmony and respect for the earth".

Of course, this is the same union that sent delegates to its 2011 convention to join Occupy Toronto in shutting down the intersection of King and Bay Streets in the heart of Toronto's financial district. Among the many causes CUPW has embraced are the Canadian Peace Alliance (which supports Iraq War deserters from the US military living in Canada), the Palestinian fight with Israel, withdrawal from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting "Islamophobia" following 9/11, and generally anything opposed to war, militarism and globalization.

All of these are perfectly acceptable causes, and in a free democracy everyone has a right to hold these or opposing views, but it makes me wonder if this is a proper role for a union which has as its main function representing postal workers in collective bargaining with Canada Post. Is Doris, the sweet little old lady who works the counter at my rural post office, really concerned about Palestine or replacing our morally bankrupt system? And are the workers of the organization whose main function these days seems to be delivery of unwanted junk mail and pound after pound of advertising flyers for big box stores really interested in a life more in harmony with Mother Earth? If so, I suggest that they stop being hypocritical, quit their jobs as tools of the capitalist bourgeoisie, and see if they can still find an Occupy camp somewhere to help bring down the corrupt system they are currently helping to perpetuate.

Postal workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your satchels!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Newton Day

Today we celebrate another important birthday, that of the great scientist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton, who was born on this day in 1642. Newton's book Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, first published in 1687, laid the groundwork for the modern study of science. The French mathematician Alexis Clairaut, who translated the Principia into French, wrote of it:
The famous book of mathematical Principles of natural Philosophy marked the epoch of a great revolution in physics. The method followed by its illustrious author Sir Newton, spread the light of mathematics on a science which up to then had remained in the darkness of conjectures and hypotheses.
Newton was undoubtedly the greatest scientist of them all, and the Principia was a flash of genius that marked a turning point in the history of both science and western culture.

When he died he was buried in Westminster Abbey alongside the great and mighty of British history. The epitaph on his elaborate tomb reads:
Here is buried Isaac Newton, Knight, who by a strength of mind almost divine, and mathematical principles peculiarly his own, explored the course and figures of the planets, the paths of comets, the tides of the sea, the dissimilarities in rays of light, and, what no other scholar has previously imagined, the properties of the colours thus produced. Diligent, sagacious and faithful, in his expositions of nature, antiquity and the holy Scriptures, he vindicated by his philosophy the majesty of God mighty and good, and expressed the simplicity of the Gospel in his manners. Mortals rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of the human race! He was born on 25th December 1642, and died on 20th March 1726.
The poet Alexander Pope wrote another epitaph which was not used on his tomb but has become somewhat more famous:
Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night: God said, Let Newton be! and all was light.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection:  Christmas Blues, sung by Canada's own Holly Cole.

Is Obama considering a homophobic bigot for Secretary of Defense?

If so, he'll probably get a pass because he's a Democrat and, like the President, he's "evolved" on the issue.

Former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel is reputedly on the short list to replace Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense. In 1998, Hagel opposed the appointment of James Hormel as Ambassador to Luxembourg because he was "aggressively gay". In an interview with a newspaper at the time, Hagel remarked :
They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.
Fourteen years later, Hagel has conveniently apologized, stating recently
My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive. They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.
Oh, all right then, carry on.

For the record, Ambassador Hormel is not impressed with Hagel's road to Damascus conversion:


... in an interview this afternoon, the target of the 1998 slur, leading gay philanthropist James Hormel, told me he never received an apology from Hagel himself, questioned the sincerity of the apology, and said the incident should still raise questions about whether Hagel is the right man to oversee the repeal of don’t ask don’t tell.

“I have not received an apology,” Hormel, who is a major figure in Democratic politics, told me. “I thought this so-called apology, which I haven’t received, but which was made public, had the air of being a defensive move on his part.” Hormel added that the apology appeared to have been given “only in service of his attempt to get the nomination.”...

...

Of Hagel’s comment, Hormel added: “If it were made today, it would be clearly disqualifying.”


I know it's a cliché but try to imagine how this would play out if Hagel and the President considering his appointment were Republicans.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection:  Mavis Staples and the Blind Boys of Alabama sing Nobody's Fault But Mine:

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Justin Trudeau's kiss of death

I'm starting a new meme - the "Justin Trudeau effect". It refers to the disastrous effect that a visit or endorsement from Justin Trudeau has on a Liberal candidate's election prospects. The latest victim: Calgary Centre Liberal candidate Harvey Locke, whose campaign received a visit from Young Justin last week. Trudeau's visit helped Locke snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at the hands of Conservative Joan Crockatt in yesterday's federal byelection.

If I were a Liberal running for office, I'd think twice before asking for Young Justin's help. In 2006, he endorsed Gerard Kennedy at the Liberal leadership convention. Kennedy lost to Stephane Dion.

Trudeau travelled to Halifax in 2009 to campaign for provincial Liberal leader Stephen McNeil who was running for the premiership of Nova Scotia. McNeil lost to the NDP's Darrell Dexter.

In 2010, Trudeau breezed in to Toronto for a double whammy, campaigning for Liberal Tony Genco who was running in Vaughan in the federal election, and for George Smitherman who was running for Mayor of Toronto.  Genco lost to Conservative Julian Fantino and Smitherman went down to defeat at the hands of Rob Ford.

Trudeau is an empty shell whose much-lauded magic touch with the electorate has a record of fizzling when it really counts. Now that he's running for the leadership of the federal Liberals, he has once again trotted out his alleged charisma for the faithful, promising to lead them out of the wilderness into the Promised Land. Good luck with that.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Turkey meat as a political manifesto

It must be tough being a liberal; so many temptations to stray from the narrow path of leftist orthodoxy. Every day one is presented with hundreds of little decisions, the consequences of which could mean the difference between post-colonial political liberation or western hegemony, sexual and gender equality or patriarchal heteronormative oppression, racial harmony or white supremacy. Take, for example, the Thanksgiving turkey; American liberals sitting around the table on Thursday must have been paralyzed with indecision when asked by the hostess (oops - host person), "white meat or dark?"

Ron Rosenbaum of Slate.com outlines the dilemma in an article that almost defies parody titled The unbearable whiteness of white meat :
This is what I can't understand: Why does most of America want its turkey meat white? Why do people flock to the obscenely named Butterballs, which boast of overinflated breasts as unnatural as the silicone boobs of truck-stop strip joints or of the Kardashian sisters?

Why have we broken the chains of the whiteness that bound us to fatally tasteless white bread while still remaining imprisoned in the white-meat turkey ghetto?
...
Despite its superior taste, dark meat has dark undertones for some. Dark meat evokes the color of earth, soil. Dark meat seems to summon up ancient fears of contamination and miscegenation as opposed to the supposed superior purity of white meat.
I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that white meat remains the choice of a holiday that celebrates Puritans.
Indeed, the connotations of the pale and darker parts of the turkey constitute a meaty metaphor for the Thanksgiving feast itself. The allegedly more refined and daintier white parts, the wings and breast, have never touched the ground the way the earthier darker legs have done. And you know how dirty dirt is.
By the way, if you want to read a brilliant poetic embodiment of the real story of our "Pilgrim fathers," a chilling antidote to white bread, white meat, and Thanksgiving treacle, I recommend you take a look at Robert Lowell's amazing, chilling poem "Children of Light"(which could have been called ("Children of White").

Its opening lines represent the best unsentimental epitaph for the myth of Thanksgiving:

Our fathers wrung their bread from stocks and stones
And fenced their gardens with the Redmen's bones.
Maybe that's why I have a prejudice against the white-meat sacrament of the holiday that covers up the white man's crimes.
It's Lowell writing about his pilgrim ancestors who began the rolling genocidal slaughter of those nice Native Americans who made the first Thanksgiving possible.
The real Thanksgiving story is extremely dark, far darker than any leg and thigh meat.
Could fear of facing our dark history be behind the prejudice against dark meat? Or is there more to the darkness of dark meat that feeds that fear?
Not to mention the carbon footprint of those freakish birds!  Mr. Rosenbaum would probably be happier sitting down to a bowl of organic shade-grown fair-trade quinoa harvested by indigenous Peruvian native cooperatives.

You know, Mr. Rosenbaum - sometimes a turkey is just a turkey.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection:  The Sky is Cryin', by Elmore James:

Justin Trudeau is the Ethel Merman of Canadian politics

Every time I hear Justin Trudeau speak, I wince; not so much because of the stunning vacuity of what he says, but because of his hammy, histrionic style. Watching him give a speech or hold a press conference is like watching a bad community theatre production of Our Town. The maudlin cliches and the over-wrought delivery make me cringe. So, I have some advice for Mr. Trudeau - if you're going to go all theatrical in your public utterances, learn from the Queen of Maudlin herself: Ethel Merman.

Merman, born in 1908, ruled the Broadway stage during the Golden Age of musicals, starring in long-running shows that are now classics. She introduced some of the great standards of the American song book - I've Got Rhythm, Everything's Coming Up Roses, and There's No Business Like Show Business. I find her fame a bit puzzling, much like Mr. Trudeau's. She had a voice like a fog horn and she looked like a female impersonator, and there was never anything subtle or nuanced about her stage performances. When I see videos of her Broadway appearances, I feel like I've been yelled at by a crazy neighbour to get off her lawn. And yet she dominated the stage for decades, and great composers like Irving Berlin demanded that she sing their songs.  Watch this live performance of Everything's Coming Up Roses from late in her career to see what I mean:



Now listen to one of Mr. Trudeau's press conferences, after he was challenged for suggesting that if Stephen Harper got away with his hidden agenda, he might consider becoming a Quebec separatist:



Watch La Merman sing There's No Business Like Show Business, backed by The Boston Pops Orchestra:



and watch Young Justin from the recent interview which has landed him in hot water:



If Mr. Trudeau is going to go all Broadway Diva every time he speaks in public, he should emulate the greatest diva of them all. Ethel Merman was a superstar despite having a voice like a high school marching band. She dominated the stage because she didn't need a microphone to belt tunes to the back of a theatre in the days before electronic amplification, and she covered for her lack of vocal finesse with lush orchestrations, flamboyant costumes, lavish scenery and big hair. Trudeau already has the hair and the House of Commons provides the stage - I think you'll agree that if he wants to go full diva and yet cover for his lack of intellectual finesse, he'll need some of his admirers at the CBC to hook him up with their costume department. Maybe a rose in the lapel and a cape would do the trick, or has that been done already?


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance Day

Grave marker of a Canadian soldier of the Great War "known unto God", at the Canadian Cemetery near Ypres:


























Wreaths at the Menin Gate, Ypres - a memorial built after the Great War to commemorate the soldiers of Britain and the Empire who fell at Ypres and whose bodies were never found. The medieval city of Ypres was destroyed by shelling in the war - to this day, traffic is stopped at the gate every afternoon while a bugler plays the Last Post.



























Poppies growing in a field near the Vimy Memorial in northern France:


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: On the Wall, by David Johansen and the Harry Smiths. Johansen is the former lead singer of the New York Dolls:

Nice school ya got there - shame if something happened to it

There's a lot that disturbs me about this story. A Toronto Islamic school is investigated by the York Regional Police's hate crimes unit after complaints are made about racist materials in its curriculum. After a six month investigation, no charges are laid, but the school administration receives a friendly "visit" from the police "advising" them to change their curriculum to make it more reflective of Canadian values. Is this what we want in our country - police making "suggestions" to private groups and organizations that have not broken the law but have the audacity to challenge state-approved orthodoxy? I agreee with the school's critics that the material being taught in the school is offensive and outrageous, but that in no way justifies the heavy-handed actions of the police.

Here's a sample from the school's curriculum resources :
End of Jewish Plots and Treacheries: Ever since the Prophet’s entry into Madina, the treacherous Jews had vehemently opposed him and his Islamic call, evoking memories of their hostility to the previous Prophet, Jesus Christ, half a millennium ago. The crafty Jews entered into an alliance with the polytheist Quraish in a bid to stamp out Islam. They conspired to kill Prophet Muhammad despite the fact that he was lenient towards them and had treated them kindly, hoping to convince them of Islam’s truth. But eventually as Jewish plots and aggressions increased, he had no choice other than to take up arms against them, in order to protect Islam and the Muslims. At the battle of Khaiber which is famous for Imam Ali’s heroic exploits, the Prophet defeated them ending Jewish intrigues and conspiracies in Arabia.
 ...
Islam has allowed boys to engage in sports for one specific reason and that is to always keep them healthy and strong. But why should a Muslim be healthy and strong? Firstly, it is necessary to take care of the body because it is a gift from Allah. Secondly, so that you may physically be ready for jihad whenever the time comes for it.
Teaching young impressionable Muslim children about the "crafty Jews" and their history of treachery, and preparing young boys for jihad is not acceptable in Canada. It is offensive. Although a private school, it was operating in a public building owned by the Toronto District School Board, and the TDSB was right to terminate the school's permit to use their facility.

The police investigated the school's curriculum material, some of which came from Iran, and found that there was no basis to lay criminal charges. That wasn't enough for the York Regional Police, though:
“To demonstrate the thoroughness of our investigation we found it important to articulate that there are portions in there that clearly are not criminal, but perhaps from a pluralistic standpoint don’t necessarily appear to be the types of teachings that you would hope to see in an open forum,” Det. Brett Kemp said in an interview.
He said while the role of police was to investigate whether the teaching materials violated Canadian law, investigators felt the need to draw attention to concerns identified during a review of the madrassah’s syllabus books.
“That review looked at the content in its entirety and there were some we thought, ‘This isn’t a police issue, this is non-criminal, however to be more reflective of Canadian core values it perhaps needs to be revisited and perhaps needs to be taught in a slightly different way.’”

Pardon me, but it isn't the job of police to decide what is "reflective of Canadian core values". It is their job to enforce the laws of Canada, end of story. When the police start dropping around for a chat, suggesting that while you haven't broken any laws, you might just want to watch your step (wink, wink), then we are not living in a free society. Once we allow the police to start doing this, where does it end? It won't stop at religious organizations - eventually political groups, bloggers and even private citizens who dare to challenge Canadian shibboleths like multiculturalism, bilingualism and abortion will be receiving "friendly visits" from the Boys in Blue.

The proper response to unacceptable or offensive opinions is to give them lots of publicity, expose them to public scrutiny (and ridicule if need be), and to refute them with more free speech. When the police decide what opinions are "the types of teachings that you would hope to see in an open forum", then there is in fact NO open forum, and unpleasant or dangerous ideas are driven underground.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Goodbye to the Quinte Hotel

On Monday Nov. 5, a decrepit and seedy stripper bar in Trenton, Ontario was completely destroyed in a blaze that closed downtown Trenton for most of the day. It was big news in this small Eastern Ontario town, home to Canada's largest Air Force base. The Sherwood Forest Inn, as it was called, was once known as the Quinte Hotel, and was the subject of a famous poem by local poet Al Purdy, who grew up in Trenton and lived most of his life in nearby Ameliasburgh.

Purdy wrote his famous poem At The Quinte Hotel in 1968. He had a gift for finding drama in small town life, and in this poem he describes a night of drinking, fighting and poetry reading in the hotel's bar, which was fairly close to his home. The poem is beautifully rendered in this video featuring Gord Downey of The Tragically Hip and the voice of Purdy himself:

   T

The hotel was notorious in Trenton for decades. It probably won't be missed by most of the locals save for the strippers that worked there, the drunks that hung out there and the teenagers who used to sneak in and drink there underage. Here's a comment from a YouTube viewer who was a resident of Trenton:
I grew up in Trenton in the 70/80's. Most of the bad influences on us was because of the Quinte Hotel. The first time I drank a beer was at the Quinte, I was 15. Saw my first stripper at the Quinte. Saw Varouge, Helix, Max Webster and many more at the Q. I even had a gun pointed at my head one cold January night in '79/80 by an undercover police officer. They were getting ready for the first of many big raids in Trenton. It didn't seem like it then but looking back it was a scary fucking place.
It's hard to tell by looking at it in these photos (taken in 2011), but underneath all the aluminum siding and brick accretions was a structure almost 120 years old, one of the few surviving original commercial buildings in downtown Trenton.






























Here's a photo of the fire from the local paper, The Trentonian:
















and a photo of the charred ruins taken this morning:

















Purdy's boyhood home at 134 Front Street in Trenton was torn down in 2011, and there isn't much left in the city from the years he spent there.  His home in Ameliasburgh is still standing and has been recently sold to a preservation group that is planning to turn it into a writer's residence for young poets. He would have been saddened to see the old hotel destroyed, but it lives on in his wonderful poem.




Saturday, November 03, 2012

Best sandwiches ever

Whenever I'm in Ottawa, my partner and I try to make an effort to eat lunch at the Art Is In Bakery - they have, hands down, the best sandwiches I've ever eaten, served cafeteria-style in a funky industrial space. All the food is carefully and lovingly prepared; it's an unusual dining experience.

The bakery is located at City Centre - a bleak industrial building featuring a long row of loading docks facing onto a nondescript parking lot overlooking LeBreton Flats.  It's near Albert St. and Preston, not too far from the Canadian War Museum. They've taken over one of the loading docks and outfitted it with a retail and seating area out front, with the main bakery and kitchen in the back. It's not unusual to see bakers hauling huge bags of flour side by side with customers eating lunch. In the summer, you can eat outside at picnic tables set up in the parking lot.























They're famous for their bread, but I go for the sandwiches. The AAA Angus Striploin sandwich, my favourite, is thinly-sliced tender medium-rare Angus beef piled on half of one of their signature loaves, with cheese, grainy mustard and arugula. It's unbelievably delicious.



















On Saturdays only they feature an incredible hamburger - it's grilled to perfection outside on the loading dock on a Green Egg barbecue, then served with thick-cut bacon, grainy mustard, white cheddar cheese, tomato and arugula on one of their toasted house-made sesame buns. It's accompanied by a side of delicious house-made cole slaw. It's not for picky eaters and at $14 it's not cheap, but it's worth every penny. Wash it down with one of their unusual Dry Sodas, like my favourite rhubarb flavour. You could go the rest of the day without eating and still have a smile on your face at the end of the day.


















While you're there, try their baked goods if you have any appetite left (or take them away for later). They have rich buttery cookies the size of your head and delicious flaky pastries - my favourite is the PBJ Danish - a huge Danish pastry filled with peanut butter and jam and loaded with sliced bananas.

















The restaurant is crowded with patrons every time I visit - people drive from all over the metro Ottawa area. It's a testament to the quality of the food that so many people will travel to their out-of-the-way industrial park location just to eat there. Check it out next time you visit Ottawa - you won't be disappointed.

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Rollin' and Tumblin', a Muddy Waters tune covered by Imogen Heap and Jeff Beck:

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

John Baird pisses off the Ugandans

Well done, Minister Baird!  It's about time someone told these neolithic governments exactly what is expected from a civilized country:
Speaker [of the Ugandan Parliament] Rebecca Kadaga caused a diplomatic stir on Monday on her official trip to Canada, getting involved in a spat with the host Foreign Minister, Mr John Baird, whom she accused of attacking Uganda’s human rights record in respect to sexual minorities.

In a stinging retort to Mr Baird’s statement at the ongoing 127th Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly in Quebec, Ms Kadaga told off Mr Baird and reminded him that Uganda was neither a colony nor protectorate of Canada and as such her sovereignty, societal and cultural norms were to be respected.

She told IPU organisers that she was not aware that the assembly had been summoned to promote gay rights.
Earlier, at the inaugural plenary on Monday, Mr Baird had demonised Uganda on allegations of persecuting sexual minorities. The Foreign Minister referred to the specific incident of gay-rights activist David Kato, who was bludgeoned to death in January 2011.

Responding to the unprovoked Baird attack, Ms Kadaga said: “When we came for this Assembly, to which we were invited, we expected respect for our sovereignty, our values and our country … “I, therefore, on behalf of the Ugandan delegation, and, indeed, the people of Uganda, protest in the strongest terms the arrogance exhibited by the Foreign Minister of Canada, who spent most of his time attacking Uganda and promoting homosexuality.”
Baird's comments at the conference were in response to reports that Ms Kadaga would expedite a vote on an anti-homosexuality bill  as soon as possible. The bill proposes draconian measures to be used against the gay citizens of Uganda that would make even the most enthusiastic gay marriage opponent in Canada blanch:
...the current bill reiterates a lifetime imprisonment on conviction of homosexuality, and defines a new category called “aggravated homosexuality” with provisions for the death penalty upon conviction. Among the factors which can lead to “aggravated homosexuality” is if one partner is HIV-positive. This bill would mandate HIV testing to determine eligibility for “aggravated homosexuality.”
Also like the earlier draft, the bill includes a complete ban on all LGBT activities — including blogging — which could be construed as “promoting homosexuality.” This infringement on free speech, peaceful assembly, and redress of grievances marks the elimination of fundamental human rights for LGBT Ugandans. The bill also bans all organizations which advocate on behalf of LGBT citizens and holds their leadership criminally liable with fines and imprisonment for up to seven years.
The bill also retains provisions which require that if someone knows that someone is engaging in homosexuality, that person is to report them to the police within twenty-four hours or face fines and/or up to a three year prison sentence themselves. The bill also extends jurisdiction to acts committed outside Uganda by Ugandan citizens. In other words, if a Ugandan citizen is known to be in a gay relationship outside the country, he will risk lifetime imprisonment (or death, if he’s HIV-positive) upon his return. The bill also provides for the extradition of citizens from abroad.
The bill also voids all treaties and international obligations which violate ” the spirit and provisions enshrined in this Act.”
The new bill adds some additional provisions over the previous draft. This bill adds the category of “attempted homosexuality” and provides a penalty of seven years in prison. For “attempted aggravated homosexuality,” the penalty is lifetime imprisonment. It also provides for compensation for “victims” of homosexuality, a provision in law which is sure to result in consensual partners turning against their partner to not only avoid the draconian legal penalties, but to claim the status of victim and seek compensation.
Further, the bill now adds an explicit ban on same-sex marriage. Anyone who enters into a same-sex marriage, either in Uganda or abroad, will liable for a lifetime imprisonment. New charges of “aiding and abetting homosexuality” and “conspiracy to engage in homosexuality” would carry a prison sentence of seven years. There is also a new charge for operating a brothel, with a definition so broad as to include any hotel owner. That, too, carries a prison sentence of seven years.
This is not acceptable anywhere in the world, and sovereignty or not, the government of Uganda needs to be called out on this. I'm glad the government of Canada stepped up.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Off with his head

It was with jaw-dropping astonishment that I read Dalton's McGuinty's lame reasons for proroguing the Ontario Legislature:
Ontario’s opposition parties reacted with disbelief Wednesday after Premier Dalton McGuinty dismissed a contempt motion against his minority government as “phoney” and blamed them for his sudden decision to prorogue the legislature.
“They consumed an entire week with a spurious, phoney contempt motion rather than do the people’s business,” McGuinty said when asked why he shut down all legislative business until at least February 2013.
“They allowed themselves to be consumed by that phoney contempt motion.”
...
McGuinty also blamed the Opposition for delaying legislative business by repeatedly ringing the division bells, something they haven’t done in months, and flatly denied he prorogued to avoid the contempt motions and more fallout over the gas plants.
“I prorogued because the place was becoming overheated and because the public interest demanded that we find a way to freeze public sector wages, and it became obvious that is not something we’re going to be able to do through the legislature,” he said.
“I blew the whistle. I said ’all right, everybody out of the pool. Let’s allow the waters to calm.”’
What the hell? Of all the slimy things McGuinty has done in his disastrous eight years at the helm of this province, this is the most reptilian. The Premier is annoyed that the elected members aren't cooperating with his plans, so he's decided to go ahead and rule without the inconvenience of having to answer to them, because "it became obvious that is not something we're going to be able to do through the legislature"? He's mad that the MPPs are "delaying legislative business" so he dismisses the legislature until February, effectively ending ALL legislative business? This is astonishing, even for a Liberal. He said to the elected representatives of the people of Ontario "all right, everybody out of the pool"? Not only is his snide statement arrogant, it's an insult. The people who screamed bloody murder when Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament when faced with a procedural coup d'etat by the opposition parties had better be marching on Queen's Park with torches and pitchforks pretty damned soon.

You know, there's a historic precedent for dealing with this situation. In 1629, King Charles I prorogued the English Parliament when it refused to cooperate with his plans for war on the continent, and he began eleven years of governing without the House of Commons in a period which came to be known as The Eleven Years' Tyranny:
In January 1629 Charles opened the second session of the Parliament, which had been prorogued in June 1628, with a moderate speech on the tonnage and poundage issue. Members of the House of Commons began to voice their opposition in light of the Rolle case, in which the eponymous MP had had his goods confiscated for failing to pay tonnage and poundage. Many MPs viewed the confiscation as a breach of the Petition of Right arguing that the petition's freedom-from-arrest privilege extended to goods. When Charles ordered a parliamentary adjournment on 10 March, members held the Speaker, Sir John Finch, down in his chair so that the dissolving of Parliament could be delayed long enough for resolutions against Catholicism, Arminianism and poundage and tonnage to be read out. The lattermost resolution declared that anyone who paid tonnage or poundage not authorised by Parliament would "be reputed a betrayer of the liberties of England, and an enemy to the same", and, although the resolution was not formally passed, many members declared their approval. Nevertheless, the provocation was too much for Charles, who dissolved Parliament the same day. Moreover, eight parliamentary leaders, including John Eliot, were imprisoned on the foot of the matter, thereby turning these men into martyrs, and giving popular cause to a protest that had hitherto been losing its bearings.
Shortly after the proroguing of Parliament, without the means in the foreseeable future to raise funds for a European War from Parliament, or the influence of Buckingham, Charles made peace with France and Spain. The following eleven years, during which Charles ruled without a Parliament, are referred to as the Personal Rule or the Eleven Years' Tyranny.
Further conflicts with Parliament eventually led to the English Civil War. On January 30 1649, Charles I was executed in front of the Banqueting House in Whitehall by the victorious Parliamentarians. I'm not saying it's time to erect a scaffold in front of Queen's Park, but His Majesty Dalton I is certainly acting like he's exercising his Divine Right of Kings. Turn him out immediately. It's time he retired to his manor house and wrote his memoirs.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ontario Gothic

There's a small rural cemetery near the town of Madoc, Ontario where I frequently walk. Named after the O'Hara family which settled the area in the 19th century, it is a moody and atmospheric place at the best of times, but never more so than in the waning days of autumn when the trees are mostly bare and the weather is threatening.





















Part of the cemetery is still actively used, and loved ones still tend the graves and leave flowers.

















The older part of the cemetery, however, is unkempt and unloved and has an abandoned look. The grave stones tilt precariously or have fallen over and are covered in decades of lichen growth.






















At the very back of the graveyard, surrounded by a decrepit cast-iron fence, is a fascinating tombstone. It reads:

ERECTED
BY JOHN DICKIE
OF CHERRYVALE
IN ABERDEENSHIRE
TO COMMEMORATE THE
TRAGICAL DEATH
OF HIS SON
ROBERT DONALD DICKIE
BORN 28TH JULY 1825
AND WAS ROBBED AND
MURDERED
IN HIS OWN HOUSE
10TH JAN 1859
BY SAMUEL PETER BLOCK
ONE OF HIS OWN SERVANTS
WHO WAS TRIED AND CONVICTED
OF THE ROBBERY
AND MURDER
AND EXECUTED 18TH JUNE 1859






















Standing at Robert Donald Dickie's grave I can imagine the whole story - Samuel Block creeping through the house on a stormy January night intent on robbing his employer, perhaps being caught in the act by the surprised owner of the house who was murdered where he stood, candlestick in hand. I imagine the body being later discovered by the victim's father, the subsequent trial of Block with the elder Dickie glowering in the courtroom intent on revenge, the hanging of the convicted killer and the final act of the grieving father memorializing the crime on his son's tombstone forever.

The cemetery always makes me think of how hard life must have been for the first settlers of this area, who left their homes in Cherryvale or other little villages in the Old World, coming to the howling wilderness of Upper Canada looking for a better life. Even today it's a hardscrabble existence for farmers in the northern part of Hastings County trying to eke out a living on the marginal farmland. The area was described by Al Purdy in his famous poem The Country North of Belleville:

Bush land scrub land
        — Cashel Township and Wollaston
Elvezir McClure and Dungannon
green lands of Weslemkoon Lake
where a man might have some
          opinion of what beauty
is and none deny him
          for miles —

Yet this is the country of defeat
where Sisyphus rolls a big stone
year after year up the ancient hills
picnicking glaciers have left strewn
with centuries' rubble
          backbreaking days
          in the sun and rain
when realization seeps slow in the mind
without grandeur or self deception in
         noble struggle
of being a fool —

A country of quiescence and still distance
a lean land
         not like the fat south
with inches of black soil on
         earth's round belly —
And where the farms are
          it's as if a man stuck
both thumbs in the stony earth and pulled

          it apart
          to make room
enough between the trees
for a wife
         and maybe some cows and
          room for some
of the more easily kept illusions —
And where the farms have gone back
to forest
         are only soft outlines
         shadowy differences —
Old fences drift vaguely among the trees
         a pile of moss-covered stones
gathered for some ghost purpose
has lost meaning under the meaningless sky
         — they are like cities under water
and the undulating green waves of time
         are laid on them —

This is the country of our defeat
         and yet
during the fall plowing a man
might stop and stand in a brown valley of the furrows
         and shade his eyes to watch for the same
         red patch mixed with gold
         that appears on the same
         spot in the hills
         year after year
         and grow old
plowing and plowing a ten acre field until
the convolutions run parallel with his own brain —

And this is a country where the young
        leave quickly
unwilling to know what their fathers know
or think the words their mothers do not say —

Herschel Monteagle and Faraday
lakeland rockland and hill country
a little adjacent to where the world is
a little north of where the cities are and
sometime we may go back there
        to the country of our defeat
Wollaston Elvezir and Dungannon
and Weslemkoon lake land
where the high townships of Cashel
       McClure and Marmora once were —
But it's been a long time since
and we must enquire the way
        of strangers —

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

This is why I'm a Conservative

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, accepting the 2012 World Statesman Award, forcefully articulates core conservative beliefs and argues for a principled foreign policy:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

"I am pretty, I guess, evil ... whatever"

I'm not sure what bothers me the most about this shocking crime - the senselessness of it, or the vapid moral vacuum that is the 17 year old killer.

Last week, Texas teenager Jake Evans killed his mother and sister for no apparent reason. The family lives in an exclusive gated community near Dallas, and his parents are both middle-class professionals. He was homeschooled and had never been in trouble with the law before. When he was arrested, Evans' mumbled attempts to explain his crime betray a moral bankruptcy that I'm afraid is not uncommon in young people:
Jake Evans, 17, called 911 to say that he shot and killed his mother and sister with a .22 revolver in the family's Aledo, Texas, home.

"I am pretty, I guess, evil...whatever," he told the police dispatcher, during the 911 call around 12:30 a.m. on Friday. When asked why he killed his mother Jamie, 48, and sister Mallory, 15, Jake explained that he was not even particularly mad at them. "I don't know…it's weird," Jake said. "I wasn't even really angry with them. It just kind of happened. I've been kind of planning on killing for a while now."

But he did eventually stumble through a confused explanation of his motive. "I don't really like people's attitude (sic). They're … verbally rude to each other and stuff like that," the homeschooled teenager said.

Jake was concerned that thoughts of the murders might torment him and asked the dispatcher if she knew of any medications that might help, reported The Dallas Morning News. "I'm really worried about, like, nightmares and stuff like that," he said. "I don't mean to sound like a wimp or anything, but this is, wow, I've never, like, done anything violent in my whole life."
I can think of a dozen teenagers who fit this kid's description: inarticulate, bored, and above all lacking any moral compass whatsoever. Think about that next time you drive by your local high school.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Richland Woman Blues by Maria Muldaur, with John Sebastian on guitar:

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Catholic Church & gay marriage

On September 21, Pope Benedict gave a speech to French Catholic bishops, telling them that they must do everything in their power to resist the French government's moves to legalize gay marriage. Fine - the Catholic Church is a private organization so they can say and do whatever they like. However, if they are going to advocate policies that are in direct opposition to the secular authority of the state, they should voluntarily give up all state funding and tax-exempt charity status. The Pope's address to the bishops said
... marriage and the family “must be promoted and defended from every possible misrepresentation of their true nature, since whatever is injurious to them is in fact injurious to human coexistence as such.”
The family is the “foundation of social life” but it is “threatened in many places by a faulty conception of human nature,” the Pope said Sept. 21. The defense of the family and of human life promotes “values that allow the full development of the human person created in the image and likeness of God.” It is “not at all backward-looking but prophetic.”
His comment on the "full development of the human person" has been widely interpreted by gay pundits as implying that homosexuals are not fully-developed humans, which of course is extremely offensive. This  prompted none other than gay patron saint Lady Ga Ga herself to weigh in:
What the pope thinks of being gay does not matter. It doesn’t matter to the world. It matters to the people who like the pope and follow the pope. It’s not a reflection of all Christians. It is not a reflection of all religious people. It’s a point of view of one person.
I don't normally pay attention to what the Catholic Church has to say about homosexuality - I'm not a Catholic and I have no interest in belonging to a church that thinks I'm disordered or sinful by nature. The Catholic Church is a private organization and they are free to conduct their affairs as they see fit. No one is forced to belong to the Church, and they don't run around beheading apostates and non-believers. In a free society, people and groups are free to believe and say what they want. I don't believe that any church should be forced to support gay marriage or perform gay marriage ceremonies in their buildings.

However, the Catholic Church effectively receives massive state subsidies in the form of tax exemptions and deductions available to their supporters and donors by virtue of their status as a charitable organization. Furthermore, in Ontario the Catholic Church runs a huge religious separate school system that is funded by the provincial government. I presume they are teaching their students the Church's official policies on homosexuality and gay marriage, in direct contravention of the policies of the elected secular government. In effect, I am forced to support the Catholic Church with my tax dollars whether I like it or not.

If the Pope Benedict and the Catholic Church are going to meddle in secular affairs, they should voluntarily give up ALL state support and tax exempt status. When that happens, I'll be the first person to tell Pope Benedict to "preach away, brother."

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection:  Silvan's Night Train Trip by the amazing piano virtuoso Silvan Zingg:

Let the beheadings begin

Canadian embassies should probably batten down the hatches in anticipation of rioting mobs of Baptists and Lutherans outraged at blasphemous images of their Saviour published by an Ottawa newspaper.

Xtra! , a weekly tabloid that bills itself as "Ottawa's gay and lesbian newspaper", has a cover story this week profiling poet and performance artist Danniel Oickle, accompanied by the illustration shown at right:
Pop music, avant-garde performance, video, photography and painting — Oickle is without a doubt one of Ottawa’s most prolific artists, producing work at an astonishing rate in a variety of mediums. It was just last March that Xtra called Oickle’s multidisciplinary performance work Corruption of Flesh “a piece where sexuality and religion collide to electric effect.”
Oickle draws inspiration for his work from his childhood in a strict Christian family:
Oickle was raised in a straight-laced Baptist military family. As harsh as that sounds for a creative queer kid, it was his early experiences singing in church and being home schooled by his artistic parents that sparked his interest in becoming an artist.
All I can add is the observation that it's a good thing he wasn't born in a straight-laced Shiite family in Pakistan.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

"No one was murdered because of this image"

As is often the case, the satirists at The Onion have the best analysis of the turmoil in the Muslim world allegedly prompted by a YouTube video insulting Mohammed. They've published a cartoon of the Hindu god Ganesh engaged in lewd sex acts with Moses, Jesus Christ and the Buddha (you can see it at the link), plus this comment:
WASHINGTON—Following the publication of the image above, in which the most cherished figures from multiple religious faiths were depicted engaging in a lascivious sex act of considerable depravity, no one was murdered, beaten, or had their lives threatened, sources reported Thursday.
... 
Though some members of the Jewish, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths were reportedly offended by the image, sources confirmed that upon seeing it, they simply shook their heads, rolled their eyes, and continued on with their day.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean by Angel and the Bad Boys:




Gay-hating Republican politician attacks same-sex marriage, free speech

... wait, what? He's a Democrat? And he's black? Well, this is awkward, right after the Barack Obama love-in which just wrapped up in Charlotte. Isn't this the kind of thing we expect from Mitt Romney and his flying monkeys?

Last week, Maryland State Legislator Emmett C. Burns Jr. wrote a letter to the owner of the NFL's Baltimore Ravens urging him to take action against player Brendon Ayanbadejo, who had recently appeared in an ad campaign supporting marriage equality for gays. The letter read:
I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically as a Raven Football player. Many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other.
"Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement.," Burns wrote. "I believe Mr. Ayanbadejo should concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base.
"I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football League Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employees and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing."
Mr. Burns, who is also a Baptist minister, is a prominent Maryland Democrat:
Burns has been involved in government task forces on the legacy of slavery in Maryland, on the impact of cults in institutions of higher education, and on entrepreneurship among African-Americans. He is a member of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland and the sponsor of the bill that changed the name of Maryland's major airport to the Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall Airport.
Oops. I'm guessing Mr. Burns won't be invited to address the Democrat LGBT Caucus anytime soon.

Burns' letter has prompted a withering response from Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe which has gone viral:
I find it inconceivable that you are an elected official of Maryland's state government. Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level. The views you espouse neglect to consider several fundamental key points, which I will outline in great detail (you may want to hire an intern to help you with the longer words):
1. As I suspect you have not read the Constitution, I would like to remind you that the very first, the VERY FIRST Amendment in this founding document deals with the freedom of speech, particularly the abridgment of said freedom. By using your position as an elected official (when referring to your constituents so as to implicitly threaten the Ravens organization) to state that the Ravens should "inhibit such expressions from your employees," more specifically Brendon Ayanbadejo, not only are you clearly violating the First Amendment, you also come across as a narcissistic fromunda stain. What on earth would possess you to be so mind-boggingly stupid? It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on that same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person's right to speech. To call that hypocritical would be to do a disservice to the word. Mindfucking obscenely hypocritical starts to approach it a little bit.
Read the rest of Kluwe's letter - it's worth it.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

I love America

The Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, San Antonio, Texas - serving your beer and taxidermy needs since 1881.








Saturday, September 01, 2012

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection:  Sleep In Late, by Canada's own Big Sugar.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

"The time for choosing is drawing near"

Paul Ryan spoke to the GOP convention last night; he powerfully and emotionally articulated the core beliefs that unite conservatives. The closing moments were electrifying. I can't wait to see the Ryan/Biden debate.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I love America

Black's Barbecue, Lockhart, Texas. There are three food groups in the Food Pyramid here: pork, beef and chicken. If you want vegetables, they'll sell you a pickle.










Chris Christie shows how its done

I can't recall watching a political speech as stirring as Chris Christie's keynote address to the GOP convention on Tuesday night. He was funny and self-deprecating, but then built to an emotional crescendo that called the troops to arms and laid out the gravity of the task ahead in a stentorian voice like Cato the Elder telling the Roman Senate that "Carthage must be destroyed".  It was awesome. Watch the whole 25 minutes - it's a master class in political oratory.

UPDATE:  Best comment on Christie's speech so far, from Jesse Walker at Reason : "I'd rather be yelled at by a fat guy from Jersey than smothered with a pillow full of inspirational rhetoric."


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